It is rare for Classic Trash to revisit a series. One cannot step into the same attic of flowers or coven of teen witches twice, as Heraclitus of Ephesus so memorably told us. But in a case like this, where our intrepid Ayla came so far without… actually coming at all… it behooves the society of great readers to follow her to Over The Top Pleasure Mountain. We owe it to her, guys.
Not that it was a chore! The Valley of Horses, by equine and cave-person enthusiast Jean M. Auel, is a good time. Admittedly, the NEXT book (The Mammoth Hunters) is where the real cheap fun is at—I have not seen such CRAZED SMUT since, um, those Anne Rice books that aren’t about vampires. You know what I’m talking about. Anyway, if you missed our Clan of the Cave Bear session, you can catch up here. Let’s get back to the love; the woman-friendly love. Jondalar, you see, is the first male character we’ve met who knows how to find “the nodule.” Round of applause for Jondalar!
The adorable cheeseball vagina-centered Mists of Avalon-esque sexuality is such a delightful change of pace. It’s a little like Philip Roth wrote the first one to afford a divorce, and then the second one was written by a bunch of chicks on the Internet who own crystal deodorant. In the best possible way, I hasten to add! I mean, we’re calling sex “The Gift of Pleasure” now. Which, seriously, is that not that absolute best name for a sex toy store you’ve ever heard? Hey, venture capitalists, there are a lot of nostalgic YA-reading Millennials out there, and they need to buy Hitachi Magic Wands from someone, y’know?
I digress! Now, my very first coherent thought upon cracking The Valley of Horses—apart from “Jesus, Ayla, you’re going to get squeamish about carrying fire-starting implements because of the patriarchy AT THIS POINT? I mean, seriously, grrrl, it’s time to free your mind from the confines of your oppressors. What is this, the Panopticon?”—was “I spy a slight homage to Pride and Prejudice.”
Did you catch it? Am I just programmed to spot the Divine One’s hand at work in all things? Look: Jondalar is clearly a single man in possession of several leather thongs in want of a mate, and his brother, Thonolan, is SUCH a Bingley (cheerful, never holds a grudge, etc.) Can’t you just picture Bingley getting gored in the groin by a rhino and being all “oh, don’t spoil the party on my account!”
I was mostly convinced of the Jondalar-Darcy parallel until: “The smell of horse was strong, not from the dry wind in his face carrying their hot rangy odor, but from the ripe dung he had rubbed on his body and held in his armpits to disguise his own scent if the wind shifted.” Not… so much. That seems more Wickham-y to me. And then, soon enough, we get to what y’all were hinting at in the comments last time: Jondalar’s huge wang. Wow. I haven’t seen such adjectives for a penis since Fanny Hill. The poor guy, wandering the earth in search of a vagina that can more easily accommodate his thunder. Hang in there, big guy! That Ayla, she can do anything. Including, in this newest installment, inventing the hairbrush and horseback riding.
I hadn’t realized that our lovebirds would take half of the book to find each other, which was a mild disappointment to yours truly. In the meantime, we get lots of Jondalar’s people messing with “the flatheads” for sport, which, uh, I know we’re supposed to root for tolerance and everything, but the events of the last book totally soured me on Neanderthals, and I was reasonably open to wiping them out. You heard it here first: Classic Trash endorses genocide! Don’t worry, Jondalar comes around in his own time, when he isn’t getting with alllll the ladies. The important thing is that a lot of the rest of the book is taken up with cave-lion and horse training and fashioning baskets out of twigs, which is totally my jam.
Ayla being Ayla, right, tosses herself up on her yearling filly’s back (don’t do that!) and immediately manages to gallop around like a pro, bareback. Bullshit, Ayla.
Full disclosure: I am owned by a fine mare of truly epic sweetness and stupidity, who would have survived in this book for twenty seconds, as she is terrified of a) the outdoors, b) all avian inhabitants of the outdoors and c) water that doesn’t come in heated buckets. If she was set free by animal-rights activists, she would search frantically for a human who could make sure she doesn’t have her medium-weight blanket on too far into fly-sheet season. Come to think of it, I couldn’t even slaughter and eat her in a pinch, since she’s chock-full of non-food-grade supplements. She would be a terrible companion to have in Neolithic Ukraine. (<3 u, baby girl! Momma doesn't mean it!) You know what you really don't want to have as your companion in Neolithic Ukraine? A baby cave lion. You know that's not going to end well. Trust, no one is singing Hakuna Matata by the end of this novel. Not to mention that it doesn't take a degree in psychology to figure out that being forced to leave your son with the Neanderthals, and then taking in a baby cave lion which you name "Baby" involves some unhealthy transference. It's time you found a mate. A mate who's only been lightly mauled by your "Baby." Speaking of unhealthy, did you catch the part where Ayla watches Whinney get drilled by a stallion and gets seriously turned on? She probably would have settled for Broud at that point. Jondalar, all in all, is a bit too much, and not just in the way we discussed earlier. He is like Feminist Cro-Magnon Ryan Gosling. Am I kidding? No. "But I want a woman, not a girl... I want her to have spirit, to know her own mind. I want her young and old, naive and wise, all at the same time." "Sometimes women who aren't perfect are more interesting: they've done more, or learned something." Jondalar, are you just trying to get in our fur-and-leather pants, or is this for real? I have a sneaking suspicion that Jondalar is that guy who takes the Intro to Gender Studies class to get phone numbers. Prove me wrong in future books, guy! DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
• Ayla uses “soft absorbent leather straps” to catch her menstrual flow. Why on earth would you do that? Wouldn’t you use, like, moss, or something? Honestly, I’m surprised she doesn’t have a Diva Cup. And then she uses a stick in the dirt to chart her cycle! There’s an app for that now.
• Did anyone else keep thinking of The Land Before Time during this one? How much did you cry during The Land Before Time?
• SO impressed by Ayla’s strict adherence to the Paleo diet: Dried meat! Lichen! Seaweed! Vegetables! Berries! Tubers! Occasional handfuls of grain! And she totally does high-intensity interval training. She’s basically CrossFit. How many burpees could Ayla do in seven minutes?
• What would your totem be? Because this is modern times, you can select a celebrity as your totem. Like, Debra Winger. I want Debra Winger to be my totem.
• Have you tried the crystal deodorant thing? I’ve never gone there. I cloth-diaper my baby like a total hippie, but when it comes to my pits, I want the highest percentage of aluminum that Proctor and Gamble is allowed to put on the market.
• Is there anything worse than men who are trying to figure out the meaning of life? Seriously. C’mon, Jondalar, let’s go back to bed.
• Ayla does that trout-tickling (not a euphemism) thing we remember from Danny: The Champion of the World, which I consider to be the greatest parenting manual ever written, minus the theft and the bullet-dodging. It was Dahl’s favourite of his books, what’s yours? I’m a BFG girl.
• Jonadalar shaves! With a flint razor. Did they actually do that? Is there any chance, however remote, that Cro-Magnons invented the soul patch?
• You’ve watched “Fatal Attractions,” that show about people getting mauled by their exotic pets, right? Don’t adopt a cave lion.
And for next time, let’s have a Classic Trash for English Majors selection and do Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
Nicole Cliffe is the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews.